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BBC - Future - The contagious thought that could kill you


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Dangerous click of the day.

To die, sometimes you need only believe you are ill, and as David Robson discovers, we can unwittingly ‘catch’ such fears, often with terrifying consequences.

Scientists are hopeful that 'smart' insulins which are undergoing trials could revolutionise the way diabetes is managed

Beware the scaremongers. Like a witch doctor’s spell, their words might be spreading modern plagues.

It’s a consistent phenomenon, but medicine has never really dealt with it — Ted Kaptchuk, Harvard Medical School

We have long known that expectations of a malady can be as dangerous as a virus. In the same way that voodoo shamans could harm their victims through the power of suggestion, priming someone to think they are ill can often produce the actual symptoms of a disease. Vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and even death, could be triggered through belief alone. It’s called the “nocebo effect”.

But it is now becoming clear just how easily those dangerous beliefs can spread through gossip and hearsay – with potent effect. It may be the reason why certain houses seem cursed with illness, and why people living near wind turbines report puzzling outbreaks of dizziness, insomnia and vomiting. If you have ever felt “fluey” after a vaccination, believed your cell phone was giving you a headache, or suffered an inexplicable food allergy, you may have also fallen victim to a nocebo jinx. “The nocebo effect shows the brain’s power,” says Dimos Mitsikostas, from Athens Naval Hospital in Greece. “And we cannot fully explain it.”

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